Airports Gradually Allow Non-Travelers into Terminals

In the years before the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) and heightened security measures, airports opened their doors to pretty much anybody who wanted to come in. Of course, most of the non-travelers who spent time in terminals were people waiting for passengers to disembark. After all, 20th century airports didn’t have much else besides a few newsstands and small restaurants. 

Nowadays, though, many airport concourses are starting to look more like resorts than travel hubs. For instance, Tampa International Airport recently opened 69 new shops and eateries, including a microbrewery and a seafood restaurant. Pittsburgh’s airport regularly features art exhibits and live music performances amongst its many playgrounds, spas, and bars. The idea for all these attractions is to fill passengers’ “dwell time,” those slow-moving hours before the fight takes off. These bored travelers can be potential profit sources for airport businesses: a survey from Seattle-Tacoma Airport found that people who waited for two and a half hours spent an average of $10.

In fact, modern airports have become so appealing that an increasing number of people are looking to visit even if they don’t have travel plans. According to Pittsburgh International CEO Christina Cassotis, she constantly received questions about casual airport visits when she conducted public forums: “In the top five questions was always, ‘Why can’t we go back to the airport and see what’s going on out there?”’ So in 2017 Pittsburgh began issuing daily passes to anyone interested in checking out the concourse. Along with having background checks, these “terminal tourists” must also go through the same TSA security screenings as regular passengers. Tampa recently followed Pittsburgh’s lead and began issuing visitor passes, although they are limited to 100 people only on Saturdays. Similar plans are under consideration in Detroit, Austin, and even in Atlanta, home to the nation’s busiest airport. 


  1. Why are many airport concourses starting to add new restaurants, shops and other entertainment destinations? 
  2. Do you think more airports should issue visitor passes to non-travelers? Why or why not?

Source: Mary Schlangenstein, “Airports Open Up to Terminal Tourists Who Just Want to Hang Out,” Bloomberg, July 3, 2019.